The Flexibility of a Naturopathic Doctor Degree

Hear from prominent NDs about the plethora of career choices available to graduates with a degree in naturopathic medicine.

Very few degrees in the medical field have the same flexibility and versatility as an ND degree.

Graduates of AANMC member schools across the continent have found success in a variety of roles, including clinical, administrative, academic, research-based, entrepreneurial, and beyond.

The majority of NDs have found that their work is not only diverse, but satisfying. A recent study of graduates found that 74 percent of naturopathic physicians report being satisfied or very satisfied with their career choice.

Naturopathic medicine is a unique field where doctors can challenge themselves and evolve throughout their career. Many NDs juggle multiple roles at once to use various aspects of their medical training. Others change their professional focus after a few years—without needing to go back to school for a new degree. Often, NDs find themselves traveling around the world for their work. With just one degree, the opportunities for NDs are endless.

We asked successful NDs about their experiences in the dynamic world of naturopathic medicine. Here are their stories, from serving as a U.S. diplomat to working for a tribal health department in Arizona to founding Naturopaths Without Borders.

Dr. Nasha Winters is the founder and CEO of Optimal Terrain Consulting. She has seen big changes in her career, spanning clinical practice, academia, research, and entrepreneurship.

Describe your average day.

Dr. Nasha WintersDr. Nasha Winters: My career has made some major changes over the years, from taking over my mentor’s general family practice in 2004, to focusing entirely on oncology by 2012. My days, back then, started very early with patient prep and constant study to keep abreast of latest research and innovative ways to support my clients on their healing journey.

I would then see on average 10 to 15 patients per day, five days per week. Over the years, I brought on support. An office manager, receptionist/patient coordinator, two more acupuncturists, two more NDs, an MD, two nurses, a massage therapist, and a therapeutic nutritionist were all part of the team that helped serve our clients well.

Eventually, I came to the point that I wanted to focus more on studying all there was to know about cancer and integrative oncology while educating clients and doctors on how to incorporate this into practice. That transition from brick and mortar clinical practice to consulting started in the spring of 2015, when I sold my practice and focused on coaching programs, retreats, community outreach, and education, as well as attending and speaking at numerous medical conferences and events for patients and clinicians around the world.

I feel I am evolving daily and have some exciting opportunities on the horizon. The thing about this field, you can reinvent yourself on a regular basis simply by following your soul’s calling.

What are some of your most unique accomplishments or projects?

Dr. Nasha Winters: I brought the first certified gluten-free commercial kitchen to the 4-Corners region of the Southwest part of the United States, where we offered cooking classes, visuals on how to stock a pantry and refrigerator, herbal medicine making classes. It also served as the “office” for our clinical nutritionist—all within my clinic space.

I began hosting Women and Cancer Retreats in 2009 that later expanded to men, caregivers, and practitioners.

I am an expert in the application of Viscum Album Extract (mistletoe) Therapy for cancer and chronic illness and have spent the last year training doctors on how to apply this clinically. I also consult on clinical trials involving mistletoe (including Johns Hopkins) and hyperthermia (Verthermia HEATT Trial and others).

I, along with my colleague, friend, and co-author, Jess Higgins-Kelley, MNT wrote a book published by Chelsea Green Publishing: The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, which is being met with rave reviews.

What makes the ND degree so flexible as you enter the workforce after graduation?

Dr. Nasha Winters: Just as our profession preaches a holistic, whole-person, individualized approach, that same philosophy lends itself the ability to re-invent along the way. We can tap in to the pulse of our patients, the medical community, and social media to know what is driving interest and need and be able to adapt and meet those demands in a moment’s notice. I love the dynamic nature of our profession. We are NOT one-size fits all.

Do you travel for your career?

Dr. Nasha Winters: During conference season (February through June), I am gone almost every weekend. If not attending or lecturing at a conference, I am on an airplane somewhere to teach a course to doctors. I also do some medical consulting in California. I am also able to do around 98 percent of my consults via Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other platforms for webinars and conference calls. I can be anywhere with the work I do now.

Why do you believe your ND degree is valuable?

Dr. Nasha Winters: If I tell someone I am a naturopathic doctor, I am likely meeting someone who will be a future client, referral, or medical contact. I have to be armed with business cards and an elevator speech and if I make mention of what I do for a living, it is likely a conversation blast off! This is an exciting time to be a unique, naturopathic medical expert.

Dr. Apryl Krause is the manager of the Alternative Medicine Clinic for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Health Department in Southern Arizona. She’s also been active with the National Indian Health Board in working on tribal health department accreditation.

Describe your average day.

Dr. Apryl KrauseDr. Apryl Krause: I focus on patients 32 hours a week. During the other 8 hours, I do admin ranging from office and clinic management to working on my duties as the co-lead for the health department accreditation efforts.

What are some of your most unique accomplishments or projects?

Dr. Apryl Krause: I work in a very innovative tribal health department that has an Alternative Medicine Clinic (which includes traditional medicine), an expansive behavioral health program, and contract service providers all in the same location—we work together and encourage patients to use all of our services. The Alternative Medicine Clinic I work in was the first of its kind in the country and 2017 is its 20th anniversary.

Our Diabetes program got the Indian Health Service Director’s Award while I was the manager, and the program has gotten other local IHS awards as well.

While earning my Master’s Degree in Public Health, I helped author a guide for tribes pursuing health department accreditation titled Tribal Accreditation Readiness: Guidebook & Roadmap.

I was the first ND in the U.S. to earn the certification as a Certified Diabetes Educator in 2014, a coveted designation in the conventional medicine world.

I am a volunteer site visitor for the Public Health Accreditation Board.

What makes the ND degree so flexible as you enter the workforce after graduation?

Dr. Apryl Krause: When I started, I worked for an MD and then a DO. This allowed me to see a very wide range of patients, from a very wide range of economic circumstances. I functioned basically as a PCP in my first job, and as a PCP/integrative practitioner in the next one. For me, the flexibility came with being able to function as a pure PCP who only writes prescriptions, or to only use natural medicine substances and techniques, or both.

In Arizona, I’m allowed to do acupuncture as part of my licensing, thanks to SCNM teaching it. It’s been invaluable and I use it on patients every day of my practice.

Having a naturopathic medical degree enables you to teach if you desire, in a variety of subjects, both academic and hands-on.

Have you changed areas of focus during your career?

Dr. Apryl Krause: I stopped doing clinical work after eight years of practicing and ran a Tribal Diabetes Program for five years. It was great to switch gears. I managed the staff, kept track of a large grant and did the grant writing, worked on collaborations with other entities in Tucson, and helped plan for and execute frequent community events and wellness programming.

Do you travel for your career?

Dr. Apryl Krause: The Pascua Yaqui Health Department has made it possible for me to travel all over the country for conferences, trainings, and meetings for Native American and public health organizations.

Why do you believe your ND degree is valuable?

Dr. Apryl Krause: The degree allows you to work as a physician. The credentials give you legitimacy as you practice outside of the conventional medicine box, and you can lean on your expertise when you explain why you do what you.

Dr. Randall Robinson is currently a Senior Advisor on China for the U.S. EPA and a diplomat with the U.S. State Department.

Describe your average day.

Dr. Randall Robinson: A lot of my day depends upon what is happening in the world. While I have focused my career on scientific affairs, I am a member of the generalist diplomatic corps.  There really aren’t a lot of typical days. For example, when the Zika virus hit the news, I was in China working to understanding the issue of carbon capture technology for coal-powered energy plants to reduce carbon emissions. Of course, coal took a backseat to getting a handle on the Zika virus! I met with policy officials, doctors, hospitals, and scientists in China to prepare a report to U.S. officials so that they could understand what was happening in China. There were daily CDC and White House conference calls to assess the global situation. I also worked with the U.S. Consular Service, the folks charged with caring for American citizens abroad, so that they could update U.S. citizens living and visiting China.

What are some of your most unique accomplishments or projects?

Dr. Randall Robinson: Early in my career, I helped put in place the largest exchange of land for debt program in existence at that time. It was under the United States Tropical Forest Conservation Act. The U.S. forgave Guatemalan debt in exchange for their promise to protect the rainforest land in the Mayan area located in the north of the country.

I was also a part of the Marine Conservation Office at the State Department which has been instrumental in helping establish many of the marine sanctuaries around the world.

In Africa, I worked closely with my UN colleagues on combating trafficking issues.

Currently, I am working as an advisor with the EPA as the Director of the China Program.  We are working to help China address huge problems of pollution, and ways to meet goals China established under the UN Climate Change Agreement.

How has your career evolved over the years?

Dr. Randall Robinson: I began as a clinician running a private-practice clinic in Mesa, Arizona.  However, I set out in my education to be more of a policy person by studying pre-med and international studies with a focus on health and human wellness as an undergraduate. I had no clue about naturopathic medicine when I started college. However, I had been an Army medic and spent a summer at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Medicine was not new to me, and I wasn’t comfortable with what I saw from the conventional medicine model. I knew there had to be more to the picture.

After graduating from college, I decided to hold off on pursuing a career as a doctor. I joined the Peace Corps and did health, wellness, and social and economic development with disabled children in rural Jamaica. While in Jamaica, my massage therapist neighbor introduced me to naturopathic medicine. It hit me like a ton on bricks that this was the kind of medicine I had been searching for.

Clearly, now I have changed my focus to the area of broad international policy concerns.

What makes the ND degree so flexible as you enter the workforce after graduation?

Dr. Randall Robinson: One of the great things about the ND degree is that you can see things from so many more perspectives than with only a conventional medical training. As a clinician, there were times when the clear choice of therapy was to get out the prescription pad and write for a drug. However, prescription drugs were just one option. On my busiest day in medical practice, I maybe wrote 4 or 5 prescriptions. My wife, who is a nurse practitioner, might write that many in the first half hour of a day. NDs have so many more options to effectively treat patients.

Do you travel for your career?

Dr. Randall Robinson: I have been stationed in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  While assigned in the U.S., I spend a lot of my time traveling the world to look at projects and participate in negotiations.

Why do you believe your ND degree is valuable?

Dr. Randall Robinson: I have worked in major hospitals and clinics across the country, and I can say clearly no one has the broad perspective of the naturopathic medical doctor. Not only is this true in the U.S. clinical sitting, but also abroad where much of the world has embraced naturopathic concepts. When I was stationed in China, it was amazing to wander around hospitals and see things like acupuncture and herbal medicine happening next to conventional therapies. It was also comforting to local clinicians to know that I understood what they were doing, and there was no sense of western clinical bias against their therapies. This sense of leaving biases behind has also helped in the diplomatic sphere. I am always willing to hear what the other person has to say, and then explore where we can meet to move forward.

Dr. Sarah Preston Hesler co-founded Naturopaths Without Borders (NWB) with her husband and is currently the Director of Operations for the organization. She also teaches at SCNM and A.T. Still University, has a private practice, and supervises medical students at a free clinic in Phoenix.

Describe your average day.

Dr. Sarah Preston HeslerDr. Sarah Preston Hesler: Every day is completely different! I might teach for 8 hours, see patients at my office, spend part of a day out doing home visits, or I might spend the day working with our NWB intern, creating policies and procedures for the organization.

What are some of your most unique accomplishments or projects?

Dr. Sarah Preston Hesler: Founding Naturopaths Without Borders is a huge accomplishment I am so proud of. We have been a 501(c)3 for six years now and have been working internationally as an organization for 11 years. Most charities don’t make it to the five-year mark, but we are growing and expanding each year.

I also work collaboratively with midwives and other birth professionals and have created a thriving practice out of these relationships. It’s such an honor to work with women before, during and after their pregnancy to help them to have healthy children.

What makes the ND degree so flexible as you enter the workforce after graduation?

Dr. Sarah Preston Hesler: As NDs, we can make each day what we want it to be. Personally, I don’t like to have too much of the same thing and I like that for me, each day is different. If I had become an MD, I would probably have been in the same field for my entire career, but as an ND, I had the flexibility to shift my focus as my interests, desires, and lifestyle have changed. Most NDs start their own businesses, which does have its own set of challenges and responsibilities, but it also allows us to be our own bosses, which gives us more freedom.

Do you travel for your career?

Dr. Sarah Preston Hesler: Although I am not traveling as much as I used to, I do still travel a few times a year to work at our clinics in Mexico and Haiti. Organizations in different countries have been requesting our expertise and support so I will be traveling to those locations in the near future.

Why do you believe your ND degree is valuable?

Dr. Sarah Preston Hesler: My degree is so valuable to me because it allows me to fulfill so many passions I have all while helping to provide for my family. It was a long and sometimes difficult journey getting to where I am today, but I feel so fortunate to be a naturopathic physician.

These diverse career paths are just the beginning for naturopathic physicians. There are endless options to explore after graduating with an ND degree. If you’d like to take the first step towards becoming a naturopathic doctor and starting on a dynamic and fulfilling journey in the field of naturopathic medicine, request information to find the school that’s right for you.

Learn more about our contributors:

Dr. Nasha Winters

Dr. Apryl Krause

Dr. Randall Robinson

Dr. Sarah Preston Hesler